If you have just signed up for your first Ironman or iron distance race and you are wondering what you have let yourself in for, don’t worry, help is at hand in the shape of the Ironman Journey group on Facebook.
Many of the 850-odd members of the group have now done at least one Iron distance race. While it is still fresh in everyone’s minds, we have drawn on the Group’s collective wisdom and assembled some tips for todays would be Ironmen. Things we wish we had known a year ago.
This is not about training or coaching; in fact it is the very opposite. It is the kind of real life advice that you won’t find in any coaching manual. So here goes:
1. Have the conversation
Ironman is a selfish game. As you approach the action end of your training you will be out of the house for long periods of time – mostly at weekends and in the evening. This is time that your partner and kids refer to as “family time”. Temporarily it has to become “Ironman time”. There is nothing worse than coming back from a long ride to an atmosphere because you haven’t got the family on your side.
More than one person has said that they could never repay the debt to their wife / husband for all their support (although only Iain Edgar’s wife has said she will see that he manages to repay it!). Ironman is an infinitely better experience if you do it as a team and take the family on the journey with you. That needs a proper conversation right at the start.
2. Join the Ironman Journey Facebook Group
Everyone thought it, Cath Hartwell suggested it. At home and at work you will quickly run out of people willing to listen to Ironman talk. The Facebook Group is full of likeminded people. It is the only place where people will think it is normal that you want to cycle 112 miles before running a marathon.
The group is full of reassurance, advice, banter, and top tips. But most important is has a handful of Ironman veterans who are able to reassure you that the menopausal mood swings, high anxiety, sleepless nights and motivational troughs are all perfectly normal. That’s OK then!
I met several people on race day that I had met virtually through the group and there are many more who I am sure I will meet at future events – people who I hope will become friends. Isn’t that one of the reason we all do this?
3. Perspective: Part 1
During the long winter months of training it will get tough. The sheer scale of the challenge can also get under your skin and will sometime appear near impossible. Try to keep things in perspective. You are not being asked to stop the polar ice caps from melting or to solve the national debt problem. You are training for a race that you want to do and have volunteered for. Most important, remember that you are doing this for fun. This is a hobby. If it all gets on top of you see paragraph 2!
4. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition
All the coaching manuals will tell you how important it is to get your nutrition right on the day. It can make the difference between finishing or not. But here are some tips born out of bitter experience:
Man cannot live on gels alone! Make sure you build some solid food into your race. The bike is the most obvious place to do it. If you are doing Ironman UK you will pass the special needs feed station twice. Pack a picnic and make the bike leg more social like Ines Carr did. But Jason Anderton offers a word of caution – if you fill your tri suit pockets with food, don’t forget to empty them before you disrobe to go to the loo or the last you will hear of your bananas and Powerbars is a splash.
On a serious note, start experimenting with nutrition now. Not everyone gets on with all nutrition as many in the group will testify. Combine a “gel tummy” with race day nerves and the results can be explosive – literally!! A few things to watch out for. Adrian O’Brien advises never to trust a fart on the run. For Chris Glover that was too late, his trust was betrayed in T2, so his advice is simple; carry some loo paper! It’s not all bad news for Chris. His mishap has already entered Ironman UK folklore and will be known forever as “Doing a Glover”.
Niamh Lewis has the last word on this topic and brings a ladies fashion eye to the problem. If you are doing Ironman, don’t ever wear a white tri suit!
5. Be organised
If you are like me (and it seems a few are), once you get to the race venue your mind turns to mush and even the simplest decisions become difficult. So try and get as many decisions as possible made before you arrive.
Jason Walkley offered a top tip for those doing 140.6 races that use transition bags. Work out what needs to go in your bike and run bags in the week before the race – then simply take it to the race venue in separate bags and decant it into your transition bags when you get them at registration. One less piece of thinking to do on the day. But make sure you do a final check and avoid Adrian O’Brien’s experience of cycling 112 miles with no socks and brand new bike shoes.
Kaine Pritchett advises against arriving at the venue on the Saturday before a Sunday race. Registering, checking in transition bags, bike racking and attending a briefing is a lot to pack into one day and adds a lot of stress at a time when you want to be de-stressing. Get there on Friday.
On a more practical note Hannah Elliot advises that you make a note of your race number so that you don’t forget it and end up in tears looking in the wrong row in the T1 changing tent!
6. Take your time and don’t panic
Onto the race itself now. Several people offered advice about the swim. Particularly be careful at what point you enter the water – with thousands of others around you it is difficult to re-position yourself once you are in. I just joined the queue and once we were in I found myself mid-pack – not somewhere I would have chosen.
Maria Greaves took this to a whole different level and ended up right at the front of the swim and endured what she describes as an aquatic pub brawl!
Wherever you end up in the swim, Emma Hampson offers the comforting assurance that you won’t die so advises against her approach which was to burst into tears as she got into the water.
Lots of first time Ironmen offer advice on not rushing things – 17 hours is a long time. Rob Jude says don’t be afraid to spend the necessary time in T1 and T2 to get comfortable – you are a long time biking and running. Clive Onions is one of many who recommends you invest some of that time in applying Udderley Smooth Chamois Cream around the undercarriage in T1 – Jason Clarke prefers Vaseline!
Vicki Gale recommends you change socks in T2 – having done it myself, I can safely say that Vicki’s tip is one the most important changes I made all day. Starting the run in dry fresh socks was bliss.
A word of caution here from Andrew Rudda. He agrees you shouldn’t rush things, but also suggest you keep a bit of time in the bank to absorb a mishap. Andrew had an episode with a puncture that he couldn’t fix and by the time the mechanic got to him he had missed the bike cut off
7. It’s not a Marathon, it’s an Ironman run
Tim Lebon takes the credit for this one. Anyone who has done an Ironman will know exactly what this means. Normal Marathon rules don’t apply. I read a great article recently which said that an Ironman Marathon is not like a normal Marathon that turns ugly at 20 miles – it starts ugly. Forget your normal thinking about pace and splits – think survival. You have one aim and that is to get to the finish.
Walking is not an admission of defeat – virtually everyone walks at some point during the Ironman run. I had breakfast the morning after Ironman UK with Becky Hoare who clocked a 3.50hrs marathon to finish in 11.10hrs, won her age group and is going to Kona. Becky walked through every feed station.
So take the walking moments to meet your fellow competitors and help each other through it. Most of my best memories of the day are from the run for exactly that reason.
8. Leave your watch at home and enjoy yourself
This was multiple Ironman Jason Briley’s advice to the Group before Ironman UK. You only cross the finish line of your first Ironman once – so make the most of it.
Nobody doing Ironman for the first time really knows what their finish time will be, so why heap all the pressure on yourself of chasing a time that you have pretty much guessed. There will be plenty of future Ironman races for chasing times – just enjoy the first one and aim to finish.
From my own experience I didn’t completely follow Jase’s advice. I had a watch on during the run but the battery died at the start of the last lap. I felt liberated and enjoyed that last lap as much as any part of the race. I could hear Briley in my ear saying: “I told you so”!!
Iain Edgar agrees with this – his single piece of advice is to enjoy yourself. Carrie Power adds a commercial twist recommending that if you enjoy it for no other reason remember you have paid a lot to be there!!
9. Keep some perspective part 2
One thing you can be certain of is that things won’t go to plan. That may be a minor inconvenience, it may be worse. One in five of those who entered Ironman UK this year didn’t finish (some didn’t start). Hopefully that won’t be you, but if it is try and keep some perspective like Cath Hartwell who had to pull out after a bike crash. Cath’s philosophy is simple: “Knock me down 7 times. I’ll get up 8”. She’s already entered Ironman UK 2015 and already has 850 supporters!
I’ll leave the last word on this to Andy Holgate – after all it is his fault that many of us were there at all. Sadly Andy’s race at Ironman UK this year ended in an ambulance. He says:
“Sometimes things happen that are out of your control that can end your race. Don’t dwell on it, stay positive, refocus and make a promise to yourself to come back stronger. Perspective, an Ironman DNF is not the end of the world :-)”
10. So if you have your partner on side, got your nutrition sorted, joined the group, ditched your watch and you’re organised and ready to roll, there is only one tip left to give – an Ironman Journey Group favourite: Don’t be shit!!